At Renbrook, we believe a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment serves our students’ needs of belonging so they can pursue academic excellence, experience community, and lead with courage and empathy. Throughout the school year, those core beliefs inform our curriculum and programming. Additionally, when significant events such as the MLK Jr. federal holiday occur, we thoughtfully curate learning experiences that are relevant and age-appropriate. This important work is accomplished because of positive and constructive mindsets, belief in the impact of unity, and an understanding of the experiences of others.
The focus of our work with Lower School students as to why MLK is a federal holiday and, therefore a day off from school, has been to educate them on who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, the work he did, and the messages he stood for: love, empathy, respect, kindness, peace, hope, freedom, equity, and justice. Students learned of anecdotes from his early life, including his love of ice cream and playing the board game Monopoly, that he grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, how he was a paperboy and dreamed of being a firefighter when he was little, that he went to Morehouse College when he was 15 years old and then earned his doctorate from Boston University, that he became a Baptist minister just like his father, that he believed in taking non-violent action to end racial discrimination, and finally, that he earned the Nobel Peace Prize.
Our students looked at primary sources such as photographs of Dr. King and others during the civil rights movement of the late 40s to late 60s, read passages from some of his speeches and letters from jail, read picture books, and discussed important songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Happy Birthday” (written in his honor and to campaign for the creation of a national holiday in his name). They also learned about the unjust laws that MLK and many others fought against because they allowed for inequality and limited freedom for African Americans and other people of color. Students learned about laws that barred African Americans from classrooms, bathrooms, restaurants, theaters, train cars, and buses.
Finally, Lower School students learned that MLK and others, through their advocacy for equality and non-violent protests, helped change the unjust laws. To bring this learning to life for our students, they have been working on identifying something in the world that matters to them that they would like to see changed, improved, or focused on by others. Fourth-grade students presented their own "dreams" during Thursday's assembly (see below). Additionally, all first through fourth-grade students have created signs to bring awareness to their hopes and dreams for a better world and will unite for a Lower School march through the Upper School hallways culminating in a divisional meeting.
Ultimately, we as teachers are striving to develop critical thinkers and empathetic students because they will grow up and be future leaders in our world. We also know that when children are informed about history, race, and differences, they are more inclusive. That is why we prioritize the use of age-appropriate activities, have discussions on diversity and inclusion, and, most importantly, help our students understand what it means to be a caring human being who has the power to effect positive change.